How to Become a Grief Counselor

Interested in becoming a grief counselor? This guide will help you figure out if this career path is right for you.

portrait of Bianca Gonzalez
by Bianca Gonzalez

Published August 16, 2022

Edited by Jared McMasters
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How to Become a Grief Counselor
Image Credit: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images


Everyone goes through loss at some point in their lives. A grief counselor, sometimes called a bereavement counselor, will support individuals as they go through the stages of grief. A grief counselor will work with individuals and groups in therapy sessions, suggesting coping strategies and monitoring progress.

According to PayScale, mental health counselors with bereavement counseling skills made an average base salary of $45,840 as of June 2022. Traits that typically make someone suitable for work as a counselor include a strong sense of empathy, strong interpersonal skills, and problem-solving skills.

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Ready to start your journey?

What Does a Grief Counselor Do?

While a grief counselor is a mental health counselor specializing in the grieving process, other specialties can pair well with the career path. One specialty that can help your career is marriage, couple, and family counseling, as this can help loved ones better understand the grieving process.

You'll also have to continue your education with relevant seminars and training programs as you progress in your career. With continuing education, grief counselors can access higher-paying roles and stay on top of current trends in their field. They can also go on to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology or counselor education.

Grief Counselor Responsibilities

Responsibilities for those working as grief counselors include:

  • Compiling case histories, recording observations, and updating client files.
  • Collaborating with other professionals on medication prescriptions.
  • Investigating the client's needs, developing a treatment plan, and adjusting treatment plans as clients make progress.
  • Facilitating therapy sessions with individuals and in group settings, including with family members and caregivers.
  • Assisting clients in working through the stages of grief after life events that result in loss.

Grief Counseling Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Grief Counselor?

The first step to becoming a grief counselor is getting a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field. Then you'll need to earn a master's in counseling and gain entry-level experience. Finally, you'll need to apply for licensure in the state you want to practice in.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

The first step to becoming a grief counselor is to earn a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's programs in counseling consist of at least 120 credits. This usually takes full-time students 4 years to complete.

The most common educational pathways for someone interested in becoming a grief counselor are psychology and behavioral science, but choosing another major in the social sciences can help you become a grief counselor as well. Majoring in social work or human services are other good options. Working with a career counselor at your school can help you plan a career around your skills and experiences in college.

Step 2: Earn Your Master's of Counseling

Graduate school is a necessary step on your way to becoming a practicing grief counselor.

Most states require that counselors have at least a master's degree in counseling or a closely related field to become licensed.

Master's degrees in counseling usually take two years of full-time study to complete and require 60 credit hours. Some online programs offer accelerated tracks that take 18 months to complete. Students will have to consider if they will need to go into debt for graduate school.

While aspiring grief counselors will probably want to specialize in bereavement, other areas of specialization that could prepare you for the role include:

  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Substance use counseling
  • School counseling

Step 3: Get Entry-Level Practical Counseling Experience

Every state has its own experiential requirements for licensure, but most require 3,000 hours of supervised experience in mental health counseling. Many master's programs include internships and on-site experience that can count towards these hours.

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for an entry-level counselor was $39,800 as of June 2022.

Entry-level positions could include working with:

  • Adults and juveniles in prison
  • Foster system youth
  • Couples and families

If you're having a hard time finding an entry-level position after graduation, consider looking for relevant internships, mentorship opportunities, or career bridge programs to get you started on your career path.

Step 4: Get a Job as a Grief Counselor

Grief counseling is a specialization within mental health counseling, but other skills and specializations can prepare you for common situations where a grief counselor is needed. Grief counselors might work with families, couples, or those who are aging.

Related specializations in mental health counseling include:

  • Trauma
  • Family therapy
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Life transitions

Grief counseling falls under the umbrella of mental health counseling. Top earners in mental health counseling made up to $67,000 as of May 2021, according to Payscale.

Step 5: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

Continuing education in counseling can give you access to higher-paying job opportunities, help you gain new skills, stay up to date on trends and developments in your field, and earn continuing education credits to renew your counseling license.

Grief counselors might continue education and pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, counseling, or social welfare. While it isn't necessary to earn a Ph.D. in order to work as a counselor, it can open opportunities in academic and research settings.

What to Know Before Becoming a Grief Counselor

Accreditation

You should complete your counseling degree from an accredited institution. Accrediting agencies monitor institutions to ensure programs meet academic quality standards. Attending accredited programs makes it easier to transfer credits, open up financial aid opportunities and increase your chances of landing a job. More graduate programs will recognize your degree.

Cost

A bachelor's or master's degree's cost depends on many factors, like whether or not the program is online or if the institution is public or private. The National Counselor Examination (NCE) costs $275 USD, and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) costs $275. The cost of a counseling license varies by state but ranges between $100 and $400. Some states charge an additional application fee.

Salary

According to Payscale, the average salary for bereavement counselors was $45,320 in June 2022. Entry-level positions had an average base salary of around $41,000, while senior-level positions had an average base salary of around $55,000.

Pursuing continuing education with certifications like the National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification or with a Ph.D. in counseling can open up higher-paying positions.

How Do I Become a Licensed Grief Counselor?

The last step in solidifying your career path as a grief counselor is to obtain a state license. Licensing requirements differ from state to state, but most require that you complete a master's degree in counseling or a closely related field. Applicants must also complete a number of supervised hours of experience in specific settings.

You also usually need to complete either the NCE or the NCMHCE. Some states require that you complete a state exam in addition to a national exam.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Grief Counselor

What qualifications do you need to become a grief counselor?

You'll need to earn a master's degree in counseling or a related field in order to work as a counselor in most states. You will also need to complete a license in the state where you'd like to practice counseling.

The National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) sets the standard for counseling program learning outcomes. Many licenses will allow you to substitute educational or experiential requirements if you attend a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Completing certifications like the NCC or Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) certification can help you meet the requirements for licensure and be more competitive in the job market.

What is the fastest way to become a grief counselor?

Becoming a certified grief counselor requires a master's degree as well as a license to practice in a particular state. It can take years to earn these requirements. Grief counselors work in the healthcare field and must learn how to apply counseling principles in practice under supervision to meet experiential requirements.

Other roles in the mental health industry have a lower barrier to entry. If you're a recent four-year graduate who wants to start working in the mental health industry as soon as possible, consider looking for a counselor assistant or case worker position.

How much money can I make as a grief counselor?

The average salary for bereavement counselors is $46,960, according to Payscale. Entry-level positions have an average base salary of around $41,000, while senior-level positions have an average base salary of around $55,000.

You can increase your earning potential by continuing education, completing certifications like those offered by the NBCC, and pursuing a doctoral degree in counseling or a related field like behavioral psychology and social welfare.

Can I become a grief counselor with an online degree?

Online degree programs offer flexibility to students and make education more accessible. An accredited online degree program will meet the same educational requirements as in-person programs. You can earn the necessary credentials to eventually become licensed in your state of residence and become a grief counselor with an online degree, all while enjoying the lower cost of online learning.

There are many accredited online and hybrid model programs available. These programs still include on-site experience as part of their curriculum and can still prepare students to meet licensure requirements in their state.

How do I become a licensed counselor?

To become a licensed counselor, you need to complete the licensure requirements in the state you want to practice in. While requirements vary, most states require a master's degree in counseling or a related field, meet practical experience requirements, and pass the examination(s) required by the state.

Most states require that you earn a passing score on the NCE and/or the NCMHCE. Many states additionally require a passing score on a state exam. Many master's programs in counseling help you meet these requirements by requiring practical experience and internships as part of the program curriculum.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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